Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Nice Fish on the Fox

The beautiful Fox River
This past weekend we had some family visiting- the Smerglias from Ohio came to visit. Well, another way to put it might be Leo Smerglia convinced Kim, Charlie, and baby Meg to come to Illinois so Leo and I could go fishing. Either way, it was a great time- we did in fact go fishing, we caught some fish, and had good-ol' chicago-style deep-dish pizza. Great weekend!

We spent Saturday afternoon walking around the Brookfield Zoo, seeing lots of animals pooping. We saw a dolphin show, had some BBQ, and did other zoo stuff. Once we finished our tour of the zoo, Leo and I hit the road while the ladies and kid and baby headed to Ikea. It was a few hours before sunset, and we needed to get Leo an IL license, get on the water, and catch some fish before we had to be back for pizza time with everybody.

I don't drive much- I bike to the train, then walk or ride a bus to work. The only time I really drive is on the weekend, specifically when I'm going fishing. The thing is, most of the time I get up super early so going way over the speed limit is completely possible (no traffic). This was not the case today- the roads were packed with cars, cars oblivious to our burning desire to get on the water and catch some fish. Weaving around cars, you know- Chicago-style - we finally made our way to Walmart near the Fox River.

Of course we parked near the entrance farthest from the fishing department. We booked it across the floor until we got to the fishing gear. Nobody was there, so we had to go on a search to find an employee- we found one stocking pink dolls in the little girl aisle. Turns out he was the fishing guy too. He came over to the fishing register, and a few long excruciating minutes later, Leo was a legal Illinois fisherman. At least for the next 24 hours.

Hopped back in the mini, pedal to the metal, and soon we were at the park on the Fox. Of course I missed the entrance, like I always do, so we turned around and finally made it in. Jumped out of the mini and put on our gear. I forgot my wading belt in the garage, so I wouldn't be wading today. I'd heard the flow was very fast due to all the rain; and anyway, I wouldn't want to leave Leo on the shore while I was in the middle of the river catching all the fish!

We hit the trail and were in a few moments on the river. It was so high! The last few weeks I walked out to islands, the low water level allowing me to follow rocks from island to island. Today the river was the highest I'd ever seen it (in my 4-5 weeks of experience with the Fox.. which is nothing..) and it was moving quite quickly. It did make it easy to see all the different kinds of flowing water; of course I'm still not sure about the vocabulary. There were fast moving parts, slow moving parts, and parts that slowed due to obstructions on or below the water. There were some areas where the water went in a circle, at times flowing upstream. That's pretty crazy!

I tied on a 1/16oz jighead with a 4" white twister tail - seems to be the surefire lure for the river - and I think Leo had a spinner or a spoon. I stepped out into the water, walking on rocks that quickly descended into deeper water- I found a hump that was only a few inches under water, about 10' out from shore. I stood on that, giving me a good location from which to cast. Leo was on the shore, casting out to the river.

Bewildered by the complex water flow patterns I was seeing, and not sure where I should cast, I tried to get my lure in the fast moving water and retrieve it so it went through the slower moving water. My first cast I was quickly reminded of how frustrating it can be to cast, and then immediately have your lure shot like a rocket downstream, away from your target. Second cast, I threw it upstream, so it would go where I was hoping there'd be fish. Third cast, I did the same, then let it drop to the bottom in slower moving water between two faster moving sections. At first I thought I snagged a branch, but as soon as I saw the fish launch from the water in an explosion of bubbles and spray, I knew I had a fish on!

"Fish! Fish! FISH!" I shouted. Looking back, I tend to yell a lot when I get a fish on. It's very exciting for a new fisherman like myself.

Leo came over to see the excitement. I knew what the fish was- it was a smallie! And a big one too, at least for me. I knew their pattern's now, and had an idea how they fought. This was no ordinary bass: this was a muscular, ripped, aggressive river smallmouth bass. After a few runs up and downstream, toward me and away from me, my drag complaining, I was able to reel it in and get it over land. On the third try I was able to lip it, as it violently shook its tail trying to swim through the air.

This was a heavy bass! This was by far the biggest smallie I'd caught, perhaps ever, and seemed like the strongest. I stood there admiring the green patterns of this fighter, astonished that a big fish like that went for a tiny little twister tail. I wondered if it had to do with its tiny mouth (i.e. small mouth) or it was stocking up for winter.

Nice smallie! Biggest one I've ever caught
Either way, I caught it! I snapped some pictures, ecstatic, and carefully released it back into the flowing water. In the blink of an eye, with an incredibly strong tail movement, it was gone.

I was really happy for a few reasons- being the psuedo-fish-guide, I had successfully found a spot with at least one fish for my out-of-town guest! If there was one smallie, maybe there would be more, and Leo could hook one. He said he didn't think he'd ever caught a smallie. I really hoped he would today!

Turns out, it was not to be. As the sun moved lower and lower in the sky, and we tried a variety of presentations (twisters, inline spinners, tube jigs, etc) it became clear our outing was a one fish outing. I felt bad Leo hadn't caught any, but there was always next time. After many lost lures, many broken lines, and many hopeful hits that turned out to be tree branches, we had to go. A phone call from my lovely wife got us quickly packing up our gear and heading toward the mini.

A great, short outing; at least we hadn't been skunked! Perhaps there would be more fishing in our future- Leo was legal for another 20 or so hours....


  1. Looks like it's about three feet long!


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